Wednesday, 27 June 2012

I'm a Scientist, Get Me Out of Here!

By Guest Blogger, Matt Gunther

Gunther was fortunate enough to be able to participate in the national competition "I'm a Scientist, Get Me Out of Here!"" earlier this month. Tasked with communicating scientific concepts to children of all ages, Gunth attempted to survive challenging questions posed by one of the most insightful demographics on this planet!

Bleary-eyed, sat in front of my creaking shell of a laptop and drinking my customary cup of crap Monday morning coffee, the cursor taunted me with its stationary and incessant flashing. Unbeknownst to me, like Mr. Anderson sheltered from the truth of reality, someone in the internet ether was about to pose an incredibly profound question that may have sent me careering down the Rabbit Hole........"Gunther, ermmmm...... Why do we fart?"

An artist's impression of the scientific duel 
in "I'm a Scientist, Get Me Out of Here!"
This was the first of many questions thrown at me by school students in the national "I'm a Scientist!" competition. I won't tell you the answer I gave but the guys over at Kidzworld provide a pretty adequate explanation. To elaborate on why I entered into this strange world, the "I'm a Scientist" event is aimed at providing school students with the opportunity to meet and pose questions to scientists in an X Factor-style online setting. The five willing participants have to enter into several live chats of gladiatorial proportions and vie for the chance to win a whopping £500 for scientific communication endeavours; with students voting for the victor! (NB. No Russell Crowes or tigers were injured during the ensuing battle!)

My rap-sheet
Very early on in the competition - excluding a few obvious questions concerning my favourite One Direction member and whether I enjoy "being sad" - I was sincerely struck by the level of insight these kids had in asking their questions and the opinions they expressed on a range of scientific matters. For instance, I had a debate with a high school kid on the philosophical implications of Schrödinger's Cat and another asking me about the ramifications of a worldwide viral epidemic. The sheer range and intelligence of these questions genuinely staggered me. It almost made me doubt whether I should be the one doing science!

The live-chats, for want of a better phrase, were a baptism of fire. Upon entering the chatroom, you are instantly bombarded with questions. It's a rather bewildering experience at first and a completely dissimilar one when compared to chatting to kids at a public engagement event. Considering, also, these chatrooms are only open for 30 minute slots and you are forced to answer as many question as possible - which must be pitched at the right level - in the minimum amount of time. It's almost as intense as running through Takeshi's Castle!

However, you quickly begin to enjoy it and, to some extent, relish the next question. In fact, by the end of the experience I had an overwhelming sense of satisfaction for participating in such an event. It's events such as this - using modern technology as a throughput to engage children - that will stimulate and inspire the next generation of scientists. It is a truly fantastic achievement on the part of the organisers!

It does grieve me to inform you, however, that I did not reach the pinnacle of success and was forced to share a fate similar to the countless gladiators who perished in the Coliseum before me...... Perhaps I'm slightly exaggerating?!.... I simply walked away and drank a sensational brew but you get the picture!

Nevertheless, I feel privileged to have been given the opportunity to take part in such a novel event and would implore you all to try and get involved! However, if the next time you see me, I'm wearing a grotesque knee-length leather jacket, some 90s shades and keep referring to the City of Zion, you have been warned!